Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Peregrine Falcon (Faucon pèlerin) in Kitchener, ON

     Last year a pair of Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus bred successfully on the Sun Life Financial tower in downtown Waterloo. This year due to maintenance on their roof, the company requested that the nest box be removed, and they were unwilling to have it reinstalled.
     Fortunately, CKCO, the local CTV affiliate, located just a short distance from the Sun Life building, agreed to permit the Canadian Peregrine Foundation to install a new nest box on their communications antenna. Two years earlier peregrines had bred there, and already this year a pair was showing interest in this location. 
     The nest box which had been taken down from the Sun Life building was too big to to be installed on the CTV tower, so a new box had to be built. Waterloo Region Nature, of which I am president, donated the funds for the construction materials, and the the custom box was built by Mark Nash of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation.



    It was getting late in the breeding season for the falcons and we knew that pair bonds had been formed. We had our fingers crossed that we would not be too late for this pair to occupy our box. 
     Dale Ingrey, the point man for our club, accompanied by several others, assisted at the erection site and the nest box was successfully hauled up and installed on the platform.







     Imagine our sheer delight when the pair of falcons almost immediately showed interest and within a day it became clear that they had claimed the box as their own.




       This has been a success story of which we can all be proud. As of yesterday the pair had two eggs!



     For our dedicated team of falcon watchers this is only the beginning. Much monitoring has to be done and people stationed at the ready to help future fledglings survive their first attempts at flight. Often they have to be rescued and returned to the nest, for the city can be a dangerous place for a young peregrine before it attains full flight proficiency.
     It is a labour of love for all of us, however, and we are happy that we have played some small part in ensuring the ongoing viability of this most magnficent of raptors.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

How Do You Spell Handsome?

     Well, I think that based on this series of picture you would say HERON!


     I saw this Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias a couple of days ago at the edge of a small pond in the vicinity of Creekside Church in Waterloo. It is in the prime of its nuptial finery and ready to mate.


     It was fishing successfully and snagged its prey with repeated strikes, but the fish it was catching were pretty small and it would need a good deal to satisfy its appetite.


     It will not be long before we hear the chorus of Spring Peepers Pseudacris crucifer and other amphibians as they awaken from winter hibernation, providing herons and other birds with a new range of opportunities to satisfy a hungry appetite.

     I am not quite sure what this gyration signified; perhaps the bird was just limbering up or maybe trying to dislodge something stuck in its throat.


      In any event I watched this heron for several minutes and it was quite wonderful to watch it going about the business of survival, to equip itself for a healthy and productive breeding season ahead.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Checking out the Real Estate

     Recently I installed a brand new nest box in our back yard and it was not long before it was being examined carefully. The first prospector was a male House Sparrow Passer domesticus and he has been back quite often.



      This morning he went in and out several times and on one foray actually stayed inside the box for two or three minutes. Perhaps he still needs to convince his paramour that it is a suitable residence in which to raise a family.
      The other interested parties have been Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus and it seemed that at one point a mated pair were checking it out together. 


     One thing is for sure, if it becomes the choice of both species, there is little doubt that the House Sparrow is going to be victorious. However, we have another option for the chickadee, not yet installed, but used by chickadees to raise young two years ago.
      A Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens showed interest also, but I have not seen this species return.
      This duo of Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura seems to have formed a pair, for even though there were other doves in the area, this couple stayed together, aloof from their congeners.


      A male House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus is a handsome bird indeed and this individual looks ready for romance.


     Even this dorsal view gives a good idea of the quality of his plumage, no doubt a sure fire way to attract a mate.


     I'll be keeping a close eye on the next box to see exactly what happens, but I am sure that whichever species gains occupancy they will make fine companions for us.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Deluge of Spring Migrants

Waterloo County, ON
16 March 2015

     From about mid March onward every birder looks for good numbers of migrants to arrive from the south, with a daily increase in both species and sheer numbers. Miriam and I sallied forth with great expectations and were not disappointed. Even before we opened the door of the car at our first stop we heard the distinctive and evocative song of the Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus , as sure a clarion call of spring as ever there was one.


     Substantial flocks of this species were actively foraging with Brown-headed Cowbirds Molothrus ater and it was evident that the receding snow left behind a bounty of vegetal matter and no doubt the rising temperature created micro climates where insects abounded.


      In terms of Red-winged Blackbirds, males arrive before females and establish territories, so it was somewhat surprising to see this female among the males. I don't think I have ever seen the two together at this early juncture in the season, but there she was foraging alongside the males. Perhaps she will have the benefit of selecting the fittest male of all, although since Red-winged Blackbirds operate under a system of polygyny, she will certainly not have exclusive access to any one male.


     A little later in the year Brown-headed Cowbirds would represent a threat to the breeding success of Red-winged Blackbirds, but since nesting has not yet begun they seemed content enough to feed alongside each other.




     American Robin Turdus migratorius was well-represented also, although their numbers were not as great as the previous two species.




     Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris is a resident species but it too joined in the feeding bonanza, and it was interesting to note that their bills have turned from winter brown to the bright yellow of the breeding season.



     We saw but a few Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula but we expect their numbers to swell with every passing day.



     A lone Killdeer Charadrius vociferus rounded out the list of migrants for our afternoon expedition.




     In addition to the birds as heralds of spring, there is no surer indication than the annual commencement of the maple sugar season. When we have daily temperatures above freezing, with a return to below freezing overnight, the sap starts to flow in the Sugar Maple Acer saccharum and sap pails seem to sprout on trees everywhere. Even the few trees at the local Mennonite school are not left unexploited.




      The sap is collected and transported to a sugar shack where it is boiled down taking approximately 20L of sap to produce 1L of syrup.




      Most of this activity in our area is concentrated in the hands of the Mennonite community and they lay in huge amounts of wood over the winter in preparation for the sugaring-off period ahead.
      The result is the sweetest, purest, sublime syrup you have ever tasted and it is always on our pantry shelf. Eaten with a light, fluffy pancake or a hot waffle, it is surely one of life's great gastronomic treats. Guess what I might decide to have for lunch?
      It used to be that any time we visited friends overseas we would take maple syrup as a gift; alas 911 put a stop to all of that. Along with all other liquids it is forbidden in hand luggage and it's too risky to pack it in a suitcase, to say nothing of the way it eats into the weight allowance. It's sad but true, we now live in a world where a jug of sweet Ontario syrup might pose a threat to life and limb. Oh for a return to yesteryear! 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Ring-necked Duck (Fuligule à collier)

DesJardins Canal
Dundas, ON
14 March 2015

     Today was the annual meeting of the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society, always an enjoyable event. The lunchtime break is about an hour and a half, ample time to grab a quick bite to eat and head out to do a little birding before the sessions resume.
     My good friend Ross Dickson was present at the meeting this year and so we set off together to see what we could find.
     The DesJardins Canal is not a grand stretch of water, but I have never been disappointed there. Today was no exception and there was a wide variety of waterfowl present. These handsome male Ring-necked Ducks Aythya collaris caught our eye almost right away.



     Ring-necked Ducks are surely one of the most misnamed species of all. No one except a bird bander with a bird in the hand ever sees the ring! 
     There was very little ice left on the canal and small islands provided a kind of oasis for a mixture of species.
      This female Common Merganser Mergus merganser was happy to loaf for a while.


     At the other end of the island the following scene was observed.


     Some of the Trumpeter Swans get a little wanderlust at this time of year. The last time I saw this individual was on 09 October 2014 at LaSalle Park in Burlington.


     Pretty soon all the swans will be flying north to their breeding grounds, but many other species are arriving almost daily to take their place. It's a great time of year to be out and about with a pair of binoculars!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Spring, Scaup and Scoter

North Shore of Lake Ontario
10 March 2015

     Yesterday, when temperatures rose to around 7°, it was a perfect day to check out the receding ice on the lake and to check which ducks are populating the areas of open water which are rapidly opening up.
     Not only was there an interesting array of waterfowl, I saw my first American Robin Turdus migratorius and every male Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis within earshot was in full voice.
     The most numerous duck species was Greater Scaup Aytha marila and although they were mostly random members of a large flock numerous pairs had clearly established their bonds and were consistently swimming together. This handsome male and female never strayed far from each other.




     Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator were present also and this male appears due for a trip to the hairdresser!



     As might be expected Ring-billed Gulls were everywhere one looked and this group was gulping down food brought by some kind-hearted human friend.



     This lone individual seemed to be content to watch the frenzy from on high.



     Humber Bay Park in the west end of Toronto has become a very reliable location to find Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos  and I first saw two birds and a little later a singleton, but it may, of course, have been one of the two birds I saw originally.




     Common Goldeneyes Buchepala clangula are well advanced in their entertaining courtship routine, but those so engaged were too far out for photographs; however, this male was a little closer.



     The star of the show perhaps was this male White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca with its truly bizarre bill. It was diving repeatedly and came up with a mussel every single time; the bill seems well suited to handling the shell and the mussel is swallowed whole.





     All in all it was a very pleasant few hours in mild temperatures with the promise of more to come.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Red-tailed Hawks (Buse à queue rousse) Get Together

Waterloo County, ON
6 March 2015

      Every day, or so it seems, I see evidence of spring in the behaviour of birds.
This shot shows two Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis perched in a tree in close proximity to each other. 



    For most of the year, these raptors are solitary creatures, and the smaller male approaches the female with trepidation. She is up to one third larger and heavier and if she is not pleased with his advances can inflict serious injury to him. It is only when their hormonal stimulation is in sync that pair bonding can be achieved.
     I believe this bird to be the female of the pair.


     Pretty soon they will be seen side by side on a branch, a prelude to mating and nest site selection.

     This male Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis was singing for all his worth when I first spotted him, but, exhausted perhaps by the effort, settled down for me to take this photograph.


     I have already seen and heard Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus 




and Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura courting.

     Soon the southern migrants will start to arrive and the air will be filled with song. I can barely wait!